Cold beer and a weekend at the cottage are synonymous with each other. Can you even head up to the lake without a two-four to enjoy during a sunset on the dock? But the next time you pop the cap off of a cold one, remember that beer is much more than a thirst quencher. It’s also a fantastic cooking ingredient and powerful creative tool in the kitchen. The sweetness from the malt, the bitterness from the hops, and the unique flavour elements of each brew allow for lots of interesting enhancements to your favourite dishes.
Here are five different ways to cook with beer at the cottage.
Bake beer into your bread
Pairing beer with bread is a no-brainer because they’re both yeast based, and there are several different methods to make it work. Mix a bottle of beer with self-raising flour and some sugar, and you’ll get a dense, moist, chewy loaf that’s perfect for tearing into chunks and dipping. Or if you’re looking for a loaf closer to sandwich bread, you can substitute beer for the liquid and yeast in many basic bread recipes and add a little baking powder. The sugars will activate the yeast in the beer, and the baking powder will help the dough rise.
A light-styled lager works best for beer bread, but you can experiment with dark beer if you like something a little more tart. Just make sure to keep whichever beer you use at room temperature (or slightly above). Cold beer will not meld as well with the other ingredients, and the dough will have trouble rising. You should also avoid using beer with a higher than average alcohol content.
Once you have the basics down, it’s a snap to add flare to any bread recipe, incorporating spices, cheeses, or dried fruits. And as a bonus, baked goods made with beer have a longer shelf life so you can savour them for many days in a row.
Marinade your meat with beer
When it comes to marinades, wine may have the better rep, but beer may be the better choice. It’s less acidic than wine, so it’s gentler on delicate proteins like fish and seafood. You can marinade your meats for much longer without breaking them down, leaving them to soak up flavour for several days. If you want to save a little money at the supermarket, pick up a cheaper, tougher cut and trust the marinating powers of beer to soften it up before cooking time.
Use half a cup of beer per pound of meat and mix it with your favourite herbs, oils, and spices. Add a little garlic for an extra kick, or play with fruit for a summery flavour. If you’re planning on firing up the BBQ, the malt in the beer will react beautifully when your meat hits the heat. Steaks in particular will brown perfectly on the outside and take on a nice caramel flavour.
Add to soups, stews, and sauces
The options for adding beer flavour to your soups, stews, and sauces are endless. You can opt for beer when a dish calls for wine, or you can substitute it for all (or some) of the stock in just about any recipe. Beef bourguignon with dark beer, beer bouillabaisse with chicken or fish, coq au beer, French onion soup with beer—you get the picture. Beer is also perfect for adding a little depth to homemade or canned spaghetti sauce or taking BBQ sauce up a notch.
The important thing to remember is that when beer is cooked and reduced over long periods of time, the flavour intensifies, but so does the bitter aftertaste. It’s best to avoid really strong flavoured beers when slow cooking soups and stews. Try adding most of the beer towards the end of the cooking time, resulting in a more subtle flavour and less bitterness. If your dish comes out a little bitter, introduce some counteracting sweet flavours. Pureed sweet vegetables like carrots will work, as will a splash of Madeira wine or sherry, or a pinch of rosemary and thyme.
Booze up your desserts
This may seem like weird concept at first, but the natural malt flavours in beer can complement the sweetness of all types of desserts. Start off slow with a simple float, adding a scoop of ice cream to your favourite beer for a cold, refreshing treat. Then branch off into other types of desserts, baking beer into pie crusts and using beer with subtle chocolate flavour to pump up rich cakes. A good rule of thumb for choosing a beer to bake with is to match it to the shade of the dessert itself.
Other great options for beer desserts include soaking fruit in beer before baking it into a pie or crumble, substituting beer for water when making a sweet caramel sauce, and replacing beer with some of the liquid in a homemade ice cream recipe (make sure you do your homework when attempting that last one). Keep in mind that desserts made with alcohol taste better the next day, when the flavours have had time to meld and mellow.
Shake up your seafood
Seafood and beer both feel like summer. And when you put them together, you’ll get a refreshing burst of food magic. To cook mussels and clams, add them to a large steamer pot, fill the pot with beer and bring it to a boil. For a nice shrimp or lobster dish, boil a large pot of water until it goes flat (about two hours) and add the seafood. Again, remember that boiling will really bring out the bitter beer flavours, so work with a nice light beer that’s not too hoppy.
If you have access to a deep fryer, don’t dismiss the standard beer-battered fish—there’s a reason it’s a classic. Batters made with beer are lighter, airier and crispier because of the carbonation and the sugars.
So the next time you’re rummaging around in the fridge looking for something interesting to add character to your cottage eats, take a second look at the beer you’ve been sipping. You won’t be disappointed.